How to Stand Out

Your “Scholarship Resume”

Are you ready for your “close-up?” It can be daunting when you are confronted with scholarship application forms that require you to discuss your background, extracurricular activities, or community service work. This process does not have to be excruciating – prepare by thinking of it as building your “scholarship resume.” Scholarship applications are your time to shine, so don’t be modest about your background. Prior to filling out any scholarship applications, take the time to create a list of your career goals, interests, activities, achievements, and any other unique attributes. There are a few approaches to effectively prepare yourself in ways that will boost your profile and distinguish your application from the competition.

Unique Qualifiers

Start by thinking of scholarship applications as a way to showcase your unique qualities: What are your hobbies? Where do you work? Do you volunteer? Do you participate in any sports? Are you a member of any organizations? What else is unique about you? By recognizing certain aspects of your identity, finding scholarships that you qualify for will become easier and creating an outstanding application will be manageable. Unique qualifiers include your employer, ethnicity, disabilities or health conditions, college major, extracurricular activities and athletics, geographic location, standardized test scores, and GPA. Keep in mind that even though there are plenty of available scholarships that do not require good grades, maintaining a higher GPA will still enable you to qualify for more scholarships.

Unique attributes can range from general characteristics like those mentioned above to something as offbeat and specific as your height. Being a vegetarian, bilingual, adopted, a 9/11 victim, or a first-generation student are just a few of the plethora of possible attributes that you can emphasize in your scholarship search and application process.

In addition to yourself, be sure to identify the unique attributes of your family members. Who do your parents or grandparents work for? Which organizations do they belong to? Many organizations and employers provide college scholarships to children and relatives of their employees or members. If you have veterans or military members in your family, you could be eligible for scholarships specifically designed for children and spouses of military members. Also, a large number of scholarship programs are available to students with family members who have battled with cancer or possess another type of health condition or disability.

Clubs and Organizations Related to Your Career Path

Extracurricular activities are a great way to acquire personal experiences that you can write about in your scholarship application. If you haven’t already done so, place your passions and interests at center stage by joining a club or organization related to your hobby, intended major, or future career path. For example, if your dream job is to become the editor-in-chief of a newspaper, then join your school newspaper or contribute to a literary magazine. This will reiterate your passion and commitment to scholarship providers. Clubs and organizations such as DECA, National Honor Society, 4-H, student government, choir, band, and theater are just a few among an abundance of options. Beyond high school, colleges and universities have a considerable amount of clubs and professional student associations that are great scholarship resume builders. Professional student associations allow you to explore a career, attend annual conferences, network, and find internship opportunities. Plus, these organizations often offer scholarship opportunities to their members.

Community Service and Volunteering

Make an impact by getting involved in community service and volunteer opportunities. The meaningful experiences you gain will amplify your presence on your scholarship application. Engagement with your community provides opportunities for personal growth and development and helps you develop important life skills such as time-management, problem-solving, and organization. Show everyone what you are truly passionate about by participating in an activity that aligns with your interests. Do you want to pursue a career as a nurse or doctor? Try volunteering at hospitals, nursing homes, or children’s hospitals. If you love animals, the Humane Society or local animal shelters could be perfect for you. Libraries, museums, homeless shelters, and other nonprofits are always seeking extra hands. Service learning can also be an opportunity for travel; for example, Habitat for Humanity, an organization devoted to building decent and affordable housing, offers service programs around the world. Even if you apply to scholarships that are not volunteer-based, service activities demonstrate well-roundedness, a quality that contributes significantly to your chances of winning.

Leadership Roles

It’s the quality of your experiences, not the quantity. Focus on becoming an active participant and use opportunities to take on roles of responsibility to further demonstrate your commitment to an organization or club. Being an active participant will allow you to draw upon more specific experiences to write about in your scholarship applications, such as overcoming challenges. Leadership positions can make a difference between a lusterless application and an excellent one because they demonstrate that you have initiative and have gained valuable lessons, such as people skills, problem-solving, teamwork, and dealing with conflicts. Opportunities for leadership roles exist in academic and athletic teams, community service and volunteer work, publications, and employment. There are quintessential leadership positions, such as a president, secretary, or treasurer, but unconventional ways of gaining leadership experience include organizing community service projects, joining tutoring or mentoring programs, participating in an event planning committee, or taking leadership development courses.

Completing scholarship applications is a challenging and multi-faceted process, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Scholarship providers want to see who you are as an individual, so continue to your build scholarship resume by gaining leadership experience, volunteering in the community, joining clubs and organizations, and recognizing your unique attributes. The result: a phenomenal application that will separate you from the masses.


Technical Stuff

One of the best ways to make a positive impression with your scholarship application is to be sure that it is executed properly: organized, free of errors, and complete. Scholarship committees often have very specific guidelines to follow when filling out, assembling, and submitting your application. If you don’t adhere to these guidelines, it implies that you cannot follow directions and you may even be disqualified as a result. Here are some technical tips on how to make sure your application gives a good impression of you.

Be error-free.

Think about a time when you noticed an error in something you were reading. What did that tell you about the person who wrote it? In a scholarship application, your words are representing you. Errors have the potential to demonstrate carelessness and an inability to effectively communicate. That’s why it’s so important to make sure everything you write is correct and written to the best of your ability. Distinguish yourself from the competition by making sure your words are expressed in a clear and comprehensive manner. It also helps to have a second pair of eyes look over your application to catch spelling, grammatical, formatting, or style errors you may have missed.

Make it legible.

Always try your best to complete your application by typing it out on the computer. Then print it out or email the file for submission. Not only will this make your application look professional, but it will also be completely legible. Some scholarship providers require you to write your statement directly onto the paper application. If you absolutely must fill out your application by hand, begin by writing out the longer answers on a separate sheet of paper. Proofread your work and then transfer your final draft onto the application in clean, legible handwriting. If your handwriting isn’t the best, ask someone with nice handwriting to write it for you.

Follow the directions.

Read through the scholarship materials and directions completely. Then make sure you follow all the directions. Some scholarship committees have very specific instructions, such as stapling the packet together in a particular order or submitting more than one copy of your materials. Directions like these might not seem like a big deal to you, but if the scholarship committee sees that you can’t follow simple directions, they aren’t very likely to consider you a good candidate for their scholarship. Also be sure you have included everything that was requested. Sometimes scholarship applications include a checklist of the required information – use it!

Be punctual.

Submit your scholarship application before the deadline. Some scholarship committees require your application to be postmarked by the deadline, and some require your application to be in their hands by the deadline. Occasionally committees even go so far as to establish a time of day before which they must receive your application. Many even encourage early submissions. Whatever the case, don’t wait until the last minute – make sure your application will arrive on time. Imagine how upset you would be after having put all that effort into an application only to have it disqualified because it arrived late?

The saying, “You never have a second chance to make a first impression” is especially true of scholarship applications. To guarantee your scholarship application best represents you, just be sure to follow all the given directions, make it look polished, and submit it on time.


Your Personal Statement

The personal statement prevails as one of the most common elements of a scholarship application. If the scholarship committee doesn’t ask for a general personal statement, they may ask you to write about a specific subject, such as why you need and deserve the scholarship, your future plans and goals, challenges and obstacles you’ve overcome, why education is important to you, all of these combined, or anything else that the scholarship committee deems important in selecting the winners. Whether you are asked to write a general personal statement, to write about one of the specific topics mentioned above, or to write about a totally different topic, one thing is for sure: you need to make yourself stand out from the crowd!

Because scholarship committees can receive hundreds and even thousands of scholarship applications, it’s essential to make sure your application is unique and memorable. Your personal statement is an excellent vehicle to do just that. It’s one of the only places in a scholarship application where you have the freedom to write more than just straight information and showcase your personality. Here are some tips to get you off on the right foot.

Start with a bang. Make sure the first sentence and/or paragraph of your statement is an attention-getter and offers a great first impression of you.

Sell yourself. Give the scholarship committee some awesome reasons why you are a great choice for a scholarship winner. Don’t be modest; be proud of your achievements.

Tell the truth. Be honest. Write in your own voice and don’t try to make yourself sound smarter with complex words. You don’t want your essay to sound fake.

Don’t be cliché. Avoid using bland words and overused statements that the committee will have already read over and over in other statements. Find unique ways to express your thoughts. Incorporate senses and emotions. Remember, you want to be memorable.

Write actively. Avoid using passive tense. Write in first-person. Use action verbs and be direct with your statements and assertions, especially when referring to your accomplishments.

Be optimistic. Even though you may have encountered hardships and overcome adversity, your goal is not to make the scholarship committee feel sorry for you. Instead, demonstrate how you are a worthy scholarship recipient by explaining how your past experiences helped to make you who you are today, and that you have what it takes to succeed in school and in your future career.

Tailor your statement. Don’t use the same personal statement for every scholarship; tailor it for each scholarship you apply to so it fits the qualifications appropriately.

Make connections. Every scholarship is established for a reason. Read the story behind the scholarship and find out why it was established. Then, in your personal statement, draw connections between yourself and the scholarship background or purpose to show why you would be a perfect recipient.

Follow the directions. Thoroughly read the directions and make sure you’re following them to a T. Be sure you’re appropriately answering the question(s) or addressing the topic(s) that the scholarship committee specified. Stay within any given word or page limits and follow all technical specifications, such as double-spacing and margin settings.

Proofread it. When you are done with the first draft of your statement, proofread it to make sure there are no errors. Spell and grammar check features available in word processors might not catch everything, so don’t rely solely on them. Ask a friend, a parent, a teacher, a guidance counselor, or someone else to look over it for you. In addition to spotting errors, they can also make suggestions for any improvements.

A personal statement can be the difference between winning and losing a scholarship. Now that you know what it takes to make yours amazing, you have a much better chance of winning the scholarships of your dreams.



Purdue Online Writing Lab
UC Denver Scholarship Resource Office